“Growing up in Poland you missed out on the culture of LGBT+ films”

BY ANGELA NEEDHAM

I meet Olga Chajdas at a bar on a late afternoon in London. It’s January, it’s dark and it’s due to snow.

Wrapped in my thickest scarf and puffiest coat, I felt like a character in Chajdas’ debut film, Nina and when we meet, the cold weather is what we comment on first. Of course, it’s much colder in Chajdas’ native Poland, where Nina is set.

Focusing on title character, Nina, a French teacher, throughout the course of the film, she falls for airport worker, Magda – despite her marriage to Wojtek and plan to have children with him via surrogate.

The film was a 10-year project for Chajdas, who began developing it in her early 20s:

“Growing up in Poland you sort of missed out on the culture of LGBT+ films.

“When I was younger, the internet was so bad that you couldn’t stream films and I always thought that most of the LGBT films are not as good as I wished to be.

“When I was in my early 20s’ I thought, ‘Ok I’m going to make my own film.’” 

Olga Chajdas on set.

After years of trying to secure finance for the film, Chajdas joined forces with her now co-writer Marta Konarzewska to finalise the script. Looking back on the amount of time it took to bring her vision to the screen, Chajdas says:

“I can’t not be happy about the film being made so late because, at 23, I wouldn’t have made it as I have done now. I wasn’t as mature, I didn’t have that much experience – that only served the film. 

“It was a dream project for years and years and one of the first things that I ever wrote – it was always meant to be my first film.

“It’s funny because, when I started writing the script, I was Magda but by the time I finished it, I was Nina emotionally and mentally – even though it was never a personal story.”

Though the writing is strong, the highlight of the film comes from the dynamic performance between its two leading actresses, Julia Kijowska (Nina) and Eliza Rycembel (Magda).

“Julia Kijowska has a huge personality and amazing intuition. I’ve seen her in different roles; it’s always different.

“When we stated that Nina was supposed to have this pure beauty and this pure happiness that she discovers towards the end, Julia herself became this pure and happy person, it was so beautiful to watch.” 

When it came to casting Nina’s love interest Magda, Chajdas chose newcomer, Eliza Rycembel, to play the feisty young woman.

“She was actually the first actress who made me cry during an audition,” Chajdas recalls.

“It wasn’t for this film; it was for a different project that I was supposed to do. She was singing a song, and she just made me cry!

“I remembered her from that audition when I was preparing Nina.” 

A still set in the vibrant, fictional queer bars of Chajdas’ Poland.

As a viewer, you feel the chemistry and passion between Kijowska and Rycembel – especially during their love scenes.

“I took on a more emotional approach to those scenes; every one of them is important, and every one of them takes the story a step further.

“We talked a lot about them with my actors, and we came up with this idea that the main scene between the two characters should be about Nina discovering her own body – hence the mirroring aspect of the scene that she, for the first time in her life, really touches and discovers herself.” 

While the story itself is heart-wrenching, the depiction of LGBTQI+ life in Poland presented an optimistic, “future queer utopia”, despite the country’s current social and political climate.

It’s a complicated love story in an LGBTQI+ friendly Poland. However, despite the queer theme, Chajdas makes it clear that she never intended to create an “activist” film. 

“It was never my intention to have Magda running around with a rainbow flag,” Chadjas explains.

“I figured that we have to take it a step further because we had to create characters who are very self-aware and even though they discover something in themselves, they don’t have to struggle with their sexual orientation because the film’s not about that – it’s about being true to yourself.”

Sadly in 2019, Olga Chajdas is a rarity in the film industry. As a female director, she is well aware of the imbalance between genders when it comes to filmmakers.

“The statistics are terrible. In Poland, I don’t know how that happened, but we have plenty of women directors. Even though the statistics aren’t the best because, out of all the films in Poland, I think only 13 or 14% were made by women, so it’s still not good in terms of feature films.”

However, Chajdas was proud to admit that her crew were mostly women on set. When asked about her future projects, she talks about her next film, a post-punk psychological drama set in late 1980s Poland with two female leads – a mother and daughter. 

“I’m sticking to my female characters,” she says.

“[In Polish films] most female characters used to be mothers, daughters, wives – they only supported male characters.

“I think that’s about to change,” She grins, “I’m working on it.”

For more visit facebook.com/MyNameIsNinaFilm/

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